Press conference

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg following the meeting of the NATO-Russia Council

  • 25 Jan. 2019 -
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  • Last updated: 25 Jan. 2019 17:59

(As delivered)

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg holds a press point to brief the media in his capacity as Chairman of the NATO-Russia Council.

Good afternoon.

We’ve just had a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council. Our first meeting this year. And the ninth since 2016.

It was a successful and useful and professional meeting, at which we discussed two important topics: Ukraine and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

On both of these issues, Allies and Russia fundamentally disagree. But that is exactly why it is important to talk. To address concerns, increase predictability and reduce risks.

Since 2014, Ukraine has always been the first item on our agenda. We discussed the heightened tensions in and around the Sea of Azov, as well as the security situation in eastern Ukraine. Allies made clear that they do not and will not recognise the illegal annexation of Crimea. And they called on Russia to immediately release the sailors and ships seized in November.

We also addressed the INF Treaty. All members of the NATO-Russia Council agree that the Treaty has been crucial to Euro-Atlantic security. But the Treaty is now in jeopardy.   And unfortunately, we have not seen any signs of a breakthrough. NATO Foreign Ministers met on this issue in December.  And all Allies agreed that Russia’s SSC-8 system violates the INF Treaty. Today, Allies urged Russia again to return to full and verifiable compliance with the Treaty. They also expressed firm commitment to supporting and strengthening real and verifiable arms control.

Today’s meeting covered two of the most serious issues affecting Euro-Atlantic security. Our discussions are not always easy.

But that’s exactly why they are so important. And we remain committed to continuing our dialogue.

And with that, I’m ready to take your questions.

Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: Okay, we'll go to Agence France-Presse.

Question [Agence France-Presse]: Hello.  David Wake from Agence France-Presse.  On the INF, was… in your meeting today, was there any indication of any willingness on the Russian side to make allowances or change their behaviour, in response to concerns?  Or are you getting the same obfuscations that the Americans say they’ve had for five years now?  Thanks.

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: There was no real progress in the meeting because Russia did not indicate any willingness to change their position.  But Russia still has an opportunity to come back into compliance, and we call on Russia to use that opportunity.  And the responsibility to preserve the treaty lies on Russia, because Russia is now violating the treaty, by developing and deploying new missiles, which are in violation of the treaty.  And these new missiles are hard to detect, they are mobile, they are nuclear capable, they can reach European cities, and they reduce the warning time and thereby also the threshold for any potential use of nuclear weapons in a conflict. 

All this makes these missiles something we have to take very seriously and that’s the reason why this issue, the new Russian missiles, have been raised.  This issue has been raised by two US Administrations, over several years, and it has been raised from the US side in 30 high-level diplomatic meetings or engagements with Russia, to try to get Russia back into compliance.

Then, at the NATO Foreign Ministerial meeting in December, all Allies clearly stated that Russia is in violation of the treaty.  We call on Russia to come back into compliance with the treaty.  And United States also stated clearly that, if Russia doesn’t come back into compliance, then US will start the withdrawal process, after 2nd February.

So, we will continue to call on Russia to use this opportunity, this window of opportunity to come back into compliance, but so far we have not seen any progress.

Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: Politico, gentleman with glasses there.

Question: David Herszenhorn with Politico.  Do you envision anything changing between now and 2nd February?  And if nothing changes and the withdrawal process begins, are European NATO Allies safer if the US starts redeploying weapons that otherwise would be banned under the INF, on the European continent?

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: I think we have to understand that what happens as… first of all, Russia can come back into compliance before 2nd February.  But even if they don’t come back into compliance before 2nd February, there will still be an opportunity to preserve the treaty.  Because what happens after 2nd February is that the US will start the process, initiate the process of withdrawal, but that process will be completed at the end of the six-month period. So, we will have a new opportunity, within that six-month period, before the withdrawal process is completed from the US side, for Russia to come back into compliance. 

So, we will continue to engage with Russia on this issue, continue to talk with them on different levels.  Allies will do it, we will do it in NATO-Russia Council, and of course the US and other NATO Allies will also raise this issue with Russia also in the coming months, even if Russia doesn’t come back into compliance within 2nd February.

Then, we have to realise that the treaty is in real jeopardy.  That’s the reason why we have asked our military commanders, our military authorities, to look into the consequences of a world without the INF Treaty and where Russia continues to deploy these missiles.  I will not speculate about what the outcome will be of this process, partly because our main focus now is on getting Russia back into compliance and partly because this is a very serious issue and we have to also look into new initiatives on arms control.  All NATO Allies, NATO, is strongly in favour of arms control, we are at the forefront of arms control efforts, and arms control serves us all well, it makes us all safer.  So, we will continue also to work for effective and verifiable arms control.

Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: ITAR-TASS.

Question: TASS News Agency, Denis Dubrovin. Thank you very much.  Mr Secretary General, have you discussed today the US systems which are in violation of the INF Treaty - like predator drones, like the intermediate-range missiles which are used for target practice for the NATO… for the US anti-missile systems, but which are perfectly capable of delivering nuclear warheads?  In Russia, there is a strong feeling that US is simply trying to put the blame on Russia for its unilateral decision to leave the INF Treaty, yet another international treaty which US is leaving.  Thank you very much.

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: These issues have been discussed for several years.  The question of UAVs, ballistic target missiles which are used to testing ballistic defence, interceptors, and these systems are not in violation of the INF Treaty.  And Russia continues to raise this issue to deflect tension from the real problem, and that is the new Russian missiles.  There are no new US missiles in Europe, but there are new Russian missiles in Europe.  That’s the problem.  That’s the issue which is now undermining the INF Treaty, and this issue has been raised by the US, which is a signatory to the treaty, over several years.  It started with the Obama Administration and then continued with this Administration. 

The message from NATO and from NATO Allies, and especially from the United States being a part of the treaty, is that arms control will not work if it's only respected by one side.  If one side doesn’t respect, doesn’t adhere, is not in compliance with the treaty, then the treaty doesn’t work.  And Russia has hollowed out the INF Treaty over several years.  That’s the problem and that’s the problem we try to fix by continuing to call on Russia to come back into compliance, and by also giving Russia this window of opportunity to come back into compliance before US starts the withdrawal process.

Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: ZDF.  Lady over there.

Question:  Anna Galiena, German Television in Brussels.  Mr Secretary General, how would you describe the atmosphere in the NATO-Russia Council?  How do you talk to each other?  And secondly, if the INF Treaty is suspended, we will see nuclear weapons deployed in Germany again?

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: It was a professional, open atmosphere, where we exchanged views and we also of course saw disagreements, real disagreements on both the issue of the situation in and around Ukraine, and on the INF Treaty.  But I strongly believe that, especially when tensions are high, when we have some real differences, some real difficulties, then it is important to meet to address these issues.

 So, even though we didn’t solve those issues, the only way forward is to sit down, address them, to improve the understanding of each other's positions and then try to find a way forward.  So, in that sense, it was a very useful meeting and I think we need to continue the dialogue with Russia because that’s the only way to address these issues. 

As I said, it's much too early now to pre-empt what NATO will do if Russia continues to violate the treaty and the treaty is then no longer effective.  So, we will come back to that because it is a very serious issue.  We have to make sure that NATO continues to provide a credible and effective deterrence and defence.  At the same time, we don’t want a new cold war, we don’t want a new arms race, so what we will do will be measured, it will be defensive, and we don’t mirror what Russia does, missile for missile or plane for plane, or battle tank for battle tank.  We need to make sure that we have effective credible deterrence, but not necessarily mirroring exactly what Russia does. 

And at the same time, we will continue to work for arms control and I also welcome the initiative by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas to convene a conference in Berlin, to address arms control and how to make progress on arms control.  So, we will of course address the military aspects, but also continue to work for effective arms control.

Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: Deutsche Welle/NPR.

Question [Deutsche-Welle/NPR]: Hi, Teri Schultz with Deutsche Welle and NPR.  Thank you.  Why is there now a window of opportunity when Russia has been given these warnings for years?  NATO Allies have been briefed for months, if not years, and convinced months ago that this missile was in existence.  Why do you think now, at the very last minute, that there's some window of opportunity?  And the US has made clear that when it notifies a withdrawal/suspension, whatever it calls it on that day, it will go ahead and start moving ahead, as is its right, with creating its own missile system.  Then don’t you have an arms race, whether or not you want one?  Thanks.

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: The sooner Russia comes back into compliance the better.  The reason why I said we have a window of opportunity is that, if they come back into compliance with the treaty before 2nd February, then actually the treaty is preserved, because then US will not start the withdrawal process.  But my second message was that, even if Russia doesn’t come back into compliance before 2nd February, there will be a new window of opportunity because the withdrawal process will take six months.  So, in that new period, there is still an opportunity to come back into compliance before Russia… before United States has completed the withdrawal process.  After that, then the treaty has ceased to exist. 

But again, we have to remember that a treaty has no value if it's not respected, if it's not adhered to.  So, the problem is the existence of the new Russian missiles in Europe.  That is what's undermining and hollowing out the INF Treaty.  And that’s why NATO Allies so strongly urge Russia to come back into compliance, in a transparent and verifiable way.  We still don’t want a new arms race and that’s exactly why, when we now have started to be prepared for a world without the INF Treaty, both … [inaudible] look into new arms control initiatives.  One of the challenges we see is that intermediate-range missiles or weapon systems, back in the 1980s, were something almost only the US and then Soviet Union possessed.  Today, these kind of weapon systems is something that China, India, Pakistan, Iran and also North Korea are developing.  So, new initiatives to address also the global challenges related to intermediate-range weapons is one of the issues we have to look into, in one way or another.  So, we will continue to strive to avoid a arms control… a new arms race, but of course that will become more difficult if Russia doesn’t come back into compliance of the INF Treaty and preserve the treaty.

Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: Der Spiegel.

Question [Spiegal]: Markus Becker with Der Spiegel.  In determining a NATO response to the … [inaudible] deployment, it's obviously important to know what the other side wants.  So, what is your theory as to why the Russian side is deploying these missiles?  Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: First of all, I will always be very careful about speculating too much about the motives of Russia, why they develop and deploy these new missiles. 

But if you read different statements from different Russian political leaders, and also military leaders, you see that they have publically, several times, announced their concerns about the INF Treaty.  Because, in their view, this treaty limits their possibility to respond to the development of intermediate-range weapons in other countries than the United States, meaning China, India, Pakistan, Iran, and also North Korea.  And this has been publically stated, both by President Trump, by different… no sorry, President Putin, by different military leaders, from the Russian side.  And the US Ambassador actually quoted a lot of these Russian statements, explaining why they actually dislike the INF Treaty.  So, if you would like to look into why Russia is violating the treaty, you can actually study those public statements and also Former Defence Secretary Gates of the United States, he actually referred to a conversation he had with the then Defence Minister of Russia, that clearly stated that he wanted US and Russia to withdraw from the whole treaty.  So, they have previously expressed concern about the treaty and I think that’s the main reason why they also now violate the treaty.

Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: We have Ukrainian National News Agency.

Question [National News Agency of Ukraine]: National News Agency of Ukraine and my question is about the Kerch Strait.  Was the issue of free passage through that Kerch Strait discussed and what solution was reached?  And follow up, were there any sign of progress in liberating our servicemen captured in that strait?  Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: Yes, the incident in the Kerch Strait where Russia used violence against Ukrainian naval ships and seized the ships and the sailors, was one of the main topics we discussed in the meeting.  And the NATO Allies called on Russia to immediately release the sailors.  That will be perhaps the most efficient way to deescalate and to try address the heightened tensions we have seen in and around Ukraine, and especially in the Black Sea region. 

And Allies also expressed very strongly that they support freedom of navigation and the full respect for Ukraine's integrity and sovereignty, including of course their territorial waters.  So, this was one of the main issues and many Allies expressed their concern that the combination of the illegal annexation of Crimea, the building of the bridge and Russia trying to interfere and to hamper freedom of navigation in and out of the Azov Sea creates new tensions and new problems.

Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: OK, we have gentleman over there.

Question:  Mr Secretary General, do you think there is a possibility the US to deploy missiles which are actually forbidden by the INF, in case they retreat for the INF?  I mean in Europe.

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: Well, as I said, there are no new US missiles in Europe today, but there are new Russian missiles and they have been there for some years, and there are coming more and more Russian missiles.  They continue to deploy missiles which are in clear violation of the INF Treaty.  That’s the problem.  That’s the reason why the INF Treaty now is in jeopardy.  And the treaty is hollowed out, by the fact that one party is not respecting the treaty.  And no treaty will be effective if it's only respected by one part, that’s the problem. 

Then, the United States has made clear that Russia should come back into compliance.  They have given them the time until 2nd February.  If they don’t come back into compliance before that date, the United States would start the withdrawal process.  But that will end at the end of a six-month period.  So, there is still time, still a window of opportunity for Russia to come back into compliance. 

We have started the process of looking into what we will do if Russia doesn’t come back into compliance, but our main focus now is to get Russia back into compliance, because that will save or preserve the treaty.  As, as I have just said, I will not now speculate, I will not now preempt what kind of conclusions we will make, because this is an issue that requires some careful assessments, some really important considerations about finding the right balance between preserving effective deterrence and defence from the NATO side, without escalating the situation unnecessarily.  And that’s exactly why we will do this in a very measured, prudent and considered way, before we make our conclusions.  We will do that as an Alliance, in consultation with each other, and we will both look into military options, but also of course look into how can we take new initiatives when it comes to arms control.  And I also underline that we will not necessarily mirror exactly what Russia does, but we need to have a credible deterrence and defence.

Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: Gentleman in front here.

Question [German Television]:  Just a question to the meeting.  You said that this is useful for understanding the other one's position.  Can you tell us on what part did you better understand the Russian position?  What were the things where you say OK, we understand this or that?

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: I think it is useful that Russia share with us their views and their considerations, both about their systems, but also their assessments of our systems.  But I have to admit that the main problem is that when Russia addresses our systems, they raise these issues which have been discussed, but that are clearly not in violation of the INF Treaty.  UAVs and NATO's missile defence system is not in violation of the INF Treaty.  Missile defence is a defensive system, while the Russian missiles are offensive.  The Russian missiles are armed, both with nuclear and conventional warheads.  Our interceptors are unarmed, they don’t carry explosives.  So, it's no meaning to compare those systems, a defensive missile defence with offensive nuclear-capable missiles. 

But again, I believe that it's better that we sit down, that all Allies are able to listen to each other and to listen to Russia, instead of not meeting and sitting down and address these issues.

Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: OK, gentleman in the back.

Question: Thank you. Sir, you delineated a little bit that you have now issued a tasking to the military authorities to look for alternatives.  Could you unveil some details of… in particular of the timing?  Because this falls together with the measured responses you just mentioned.

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: I fully respect that you ask questions about what NATO will do, but I hope also that you respect that I will not answer.  Because if I now started to speculate about all the possible options NATO had or have, or has, then I will only add to uncertainty and add to the tensions.  And that’s not my purpose.  My task is to try to find a way to preserve the INF Treaty.  That’s the main focus.  But, at the same time, we have to realise that this treaty is now really in great jeopardy and therefore, we need to start the preparations for the possible situation that we don’t have an INF Treaty in the future. 

And, regardless of how you ask the question, I will not speculate because I think that will be the wrong thing to do now.  What I can promise you is that we will have a process in NATO, all Allies included, and a part of that will also be to address arms control.  And therefore, I also welcome the fact that several Allies, but for instance also Germany has been very active in trying to preserve the treaty, but also trying to take new initiatives on arms control.  I welcome the proposal by Foreign Minister Maas to look at new arms control arrangements and also to address arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation, also in a world with new technologies that actually puts new challenges on how we have effective arms control.  And we will continue to work for that at the same time as we make sure that NATO has credible deterrence and defence.

Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: Thank you very.  This concludes this press point.  Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: Thank you.